Super Hornet fighter jets during tests at an unidentified location. When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reopened the competition to select a fighter to replace the CF-18, two questions were raised from that decision, one with long-term implications, and one with immediate consequences. The first: when will the modernization of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) fighter force be complete? The second: what will the RCAF do to mitigate the so-called capability gap (Canada’s current fleet is more than 30 years old, and down from 138 to 77 aircraft) to have a certain number of the most capable fighter jets mission-ready at all times and to ensure the capacity to address all the missions asked of it between now and complete modernization? I would like to address the second question.
I’m a retired U.S. Naval Aviator with almost 40 years of service. I commanded at every level in the U.S. Navy: Strike Fighter Squadrons, Air Wings, Carrier Strike Groups, and Fleets. I started flying the F-18A in 1983, and stopped flying the F/A-18E/F just before I made my third star off the flight decks of the USS Harry S Truman in the Arabian Gulf. After flying F/A-18’s for 25 years and continuing to command them for another eight years, I’ve been called a Hornet Admiral. I know Hornets and Super Hornets and have relied on them for decades. Today, I consult for industry, including Boeing. I do so because I believe in the importance of competition in the defense industrial base. Competition balances industry’s need to provide profit to their shareholders, while delivering both the best capability to the warfighter and value to the taxpayer.
As the debate unfolds in Canada over the modernization of its fighter jet fleet, my largest concern is the continued delay in both capacity and capability of the Royal Canadian Air Force. I am also appalled at the vast amount of misinformation in the media over the issue. As just one example, some “experts” have suggested the Super Hornet can’t perform the Defence of Canada/North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) mission in the harsh Canadian climate, against the rapidly evolving Russian bomber/long range cruise missile threat. Let me assure you that that is not true.
Today’s Super Hornet — which the U.S. Navy is flying — is not yesterday’s Hornet, which the RCAF is currently flying. The Super Hornet is not a “big” Hornet. It is a completely different fighter, with completely different sensors and sensor fusion, with much smaller signatures, with much better active defensive measures. It carries more fuel and has more weapon stations. It just happens to look a little like a legacy Hornet and has “hornet” in its name.
Is the Super Hornet an F-35? No, and it is not meant to be. It is built and modernized to complement the rest of the U.S. Navy’s weapons system, which the F-35C will be a part of too. The Super Hornet is interoperable with all variants of the F-35 and will fly alongside them for years […]